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Impairment of mixed melanin-based pigmentation in parrots

Parrots and allies (Order Psittaciformes) have evolved an exclusive capacity to synthesize polyene pigments called psittacofulvins at feather follicles, which allows them to produce a striking diversity of pigmentation phenotypes. Melanins are polymers constituting the most abundant pigments in animals, and the sulphurated form (pheomelanin) produces colors that are similar to those produced by psittacofulvins. However, the differential contribution of these pigments to psittaciform phenotypic diversity has not been investigated. Given the color redundancy, and physiological limitations associated to pheomelanin synthesis, this study assumed that the latter would be avoided by psittaciform birds. This hypothesis was tested by using Raman spectroscopy to identify pigments in feathers exhibiting colors suspicious of being produced by pheomelanin (i.e., dull red, yellow and grey- and green-brownish) in 26 species from the three main lineages of Psittaciformes. The non-sulphurated melanin form (eumelanin) were detected in black, grey and brown plumage patches, and psittacofulvins in red, yellow and green patches, but no evidence of pheomelanin was found. As natural melanins are assumed to be composed of eumelanin and pheomelanin in varying ratios, these results represent the first report of impairment of mixed melanin-based pigmentation in animals. Given that psittaciforms also avoid the uptake of circulating carotenoid pigments, these birds seem to have evolved a capacity to avoid functional redundancy between pigments, likely by regulating follicular gene expression. The study provides the first vibrational characterization of different psittacofulvin-based colors and thus helps to determine the relative polyene chain length in these pigments, which is related to their antireductant protection activity. informacion[at] Neves et al (2020) Impairment of mixed melanin-based pigmentation in parrots. J Experim Biol. DOI 10.1242/jeb.225912
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Birds present worse body conditions in more urbanized areas

Birds present worse body conditions in more urbanized areas

Human landscape transformation, especially urbanization, strongly affects ecosystems worldwide. Both urban stressors and parasites have negative effects on organism health, however the potential synergy between those factors has been poorly investigated. The body condition (i.e. body mass after controlling for wing chord) of 2043 house sparrows (Passer domesticus; adults and yearlings) captured in 45 localities along an urbanization gradient in relation to Plasmodium, Haemoproteus and Leucocytozoon infection status was analysed. Body condition was negatively related to urbanization level and to urbanized land coverage but only in yearling birds from urban habitats. In addition, bird body condition tended to increase in rural habitats, significantly in the case of yearlings. Infected individuals by Plasmodium or Haemoproteus had higher body condition than un-infected birds, but this pattern could be due to a selective disappearance of infected individuals with lower body condition as suggested by the reduced variance in body condition in infected birds in urban habitats. These results provide support for a negative impact of urbanization on bird body condition, while Plasmodium and Haemoproteus may exert selection against individuals with lower body condition living in urban habitats, especially during earlier life stages, underlining the synergistic effects that urbanization and parasites may have on wild birds. informacion[at] Jiménez-Peñuela et al (2018) Urbanization and blood parasite infections affect the body condition of wild birds. Sci Total Environ Doi 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.10.203